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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Monday, March 11, 2019

It's only words

Want to write that book that’s bubbling up within you? Here are some tips to get going

Last month my book, Race Course Road, turned one. And never before have I been quite so excited by an anniversary. So, like all proud parents, I have been planning special events to celebrate this landmark, everything from giveaway contests, to social media campaigns and book events across the country.

But as things settle down, and I look back on the year past, I finally begin to appreciate what a wild ride it has been. This was the year I turned into an interviewee from an interviewer. This was the year I topped the bestseller list – a first for me. And then there was the novel sensation of having film production companies reach out to me for the movie and digital rights to Race Course Road.

Through all this, though, there was one question that kept cropping up wherever I went. What are your tips for writing a book?

I usually replied with whatever inanity that popped into my head at that moment. But as I sit down on my desk again to work on the sequel to Race Course Road, I have been thinking hard about the answers to that question. Real answers, that is, that would actually help those sitting down to write their own novel.

And here, for what it is worth, is what I came up with, based entirely on what worked for me.

There is nothing more terrifying than a blank page. So before you sit down to write your book, spend some time in preparing for that venture. Make notes about where you want your story to go, think about crucial plot twists. If you are organized enough, then doing chapter break-ups is a good idea because it allows you to pace yourself. And it always useful to flesh out your characters in your head before you sit down to write.

And then, when you finally sit down to write, be prepared to junk all of it if necessary. This is just a way to settle your nerves, to muster up the courage to make that first keystroke. This is not a masterplan that you must follow at all cost. If the story wants to go in a different direction, allow it to do so, and see what happens. If some characters surprise you on the page, don’t clamp down and put them back in their fictional straitjackets. Just like real-life people, characters in a book have a life of their own. Let them live it as they see fit.

Don’t wait for the muse to strike. If you do that you will be waiting forever. Just sit down and start writing. It doesn’t matter if it seems like heavy going. Don’t worry if every single word on the page seems wrong. You can always go back and re-write or edit – or even junk it altogether. But it is essential that you start the process. Because unless you start you can never finish.

And then persevere. The best way to do this is to set yourself a deadline. It could be 500 words a day. It could be a chapter in a week. Or even an entire book in 14 months. Once you have set this internal deadline, try your best to stick to it. But if you miss out on a particular week’s target, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just try and make up in the following fortnight.

If there is one thing I can promise you, it is this: it won’t be easy. There will be times when the words will refuse to come. There will be times when you will tempted to delete everything you’ve written and just give up. Don’t do that. Take a deep breath, step away from the computer for a bit until you calm down. And then reevaluate when you are feeling less emotional.

Most important of all: give yourself a break occasionally. Treat yourself to some time off when you have finished a chapter or negotiated a particularly tricky plot twist. You can use this time to go on a mini-break or just chill on the sofa all day long. But time off is vital to come back to your manuscript refreshed and with a fresh eye. 

Don’t stop reading just because you are writing. Read a good book to get inspired. Read a bad book to feel better about your own writing. Reward yourself with a page-turner when you’ve met a deadline. And stick to serious non-fiction while writing so that you don’t get distracted by the thought of what happens next.

Stay off the internet while you are writing. Switch off the wifi in your home, put your phone on airplane mode. And see the difference it makes to your productivity.

Writing is a lonely business. So it always helps to have a book buddy, someone you can rehash plot points with, who can be your first reader and give you unbiased and honest feedback. In my case, it was my husband but I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone. Frank criticism can place some strain on the happiest of marriages; so make sure yours can bear up under that weight.

And with that load off my chest, allow me to wish you “Happy Writing”. I look forward to reading that book that currently resides within you.